Vail firehouse tax heading to ballot
Vail voters this fall will get a second chance to settle a two-decade-old question over whether a third Vail fire station in West Vail should be built.
It’s an expensive question that for 22 years successive Vail Town Councils have tip-toed around – until now. The current council agreed to put the issue on the ballot with a 4-2 vote with Diana Donovan and Greg Moffet opposing the measure.
Voters will now decide whether or not to fund the $3.2 million, 20-year bond proposal with a property-tax increase that will add approximately $23.40 to the tax bill on a house valued at $300,000. Fire stations already exist in East Vail and Vail Village.
It’s the second time in two years the issue has been before voters, but the first time it has been separated from a larger slate of capital projects. Last November, a $55 million public projects bond, that included a provision for a new firehouse, was defeated by just 55 votes.
The driving issue behind the project is the need to reduce emergency response times to West Vail. At present, those response times run as long as eight minutes.
Vail’s Town Council felt the proposed $4.2 million project was $1 million too much and scaled back the property tax increase.
In addition to the new firehouse, a site for which has not yet been determined, the issue will provide $485,000 for a new fire truck and $550,000 to remodel the aging Vail fire house.
Councilman Chuck Ogilby challenged the cost of the original proposal saying he believed the proposed 10,800-square-foot fire station could be built for $300 per square foot, instead of the $388 proposed.
The council also extracted money to operate the station from the tax increase.
“If we truly want to build a fire station we need to fund it through the budget,” said Councilman Dick Cleveland. “Fire, police and roads are basic services we need to provide. If we include it (on the ballot), I think voters will think we’re pulling a fast one.”
Operating cost for the new station, including personnel, will be $325,750 an will come out of the town’s general fund.
That issue, too, is a sticky one. Cleveland acknowledged that a consolidated fire department – which exists from Wolcott to Dowd Junction – would be “in the best interest of the town.”
Consolidation with the Eagle River Fire Protection District will likely be a political hot potato for the town, but declining revenues and increasing expenses may force the issue. Approximately 45 percent of the town’s annual operating revenues come from sales taxes. In the last two years, those collections actually have declined slightly.
There are six potential sites for the proposed three-bay station that will also include living quarters for seven firefighters.
The issue has been simmering since 1981, when the town of Vail took over fire operations, with the understanding that a third fire station would be built. In 1984 the issue even went to District Court where a judge ordered the town to build a firehouse by 1985. It never happened.
If the proposal passes, the tax supporting the bond will be rescinded after the bonds are paid off in 2024. Annual carrying cost for building the new fire station, remodeling and the new truck is $436,000.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext 450, or email@example.com